No sooner did his band lean into the animated stride of Effigy last night at the Singletary Center for the Arts than Andrew Bird called a time out.
“That’s a little too swift,” instructed the Chicago song stylist to his backup trio before launching into a second attempt with a slightly dustier rhythm.
It was curious guidance, in a way, because Bird was armed like an artist capable of taking on the entire arrangement himself. He had a guitar slung over his shoulder, a violin raised in one hand, a bow in the other, a pedal board full of looping effects at his feet and a glockenspiel (which, sadly, went unplayed for much of the evening) by his side.
The 1 ¾ hour performance shifted between such one-man-band designs and full ensemble durability that took Byrd’s music into rockier and unexpectedly rootsier terrain.
The show-opening Hole in the Ocean Floor reaffirmed what we already knew about Bird – namely, his ability to summon wistful pop reflection with an orchestra of on-the-spot loops and effects, a beautifully tempered (but classically assured) command of the violin and the light hearted solo stage persona of a minstrel singer. Thank his most distinctive voice, one created by human whistling, for the latter quality.
The band – guitarist Jerey Ylvisaker, drummer Martin Dosh and bassist Alan Hampton – entered for Desperate Breeds…, one of a handful of tunes (along with Ocean Floor) pulled from Bird’s recent Break It Yourself album. Like much of the evening’s repertoire, it offered a brightly autumnal atmosphere that grew out a child-like pop melody created by Bird from plucking and strumming the violin like a ukulele.
But there were also instances where Bird and company unplugged from the effects and took on folk fare like Railroad Bill, Townes Van Zandt’s If I Needed You and another Break It Yourself gem, Give It Away, by singing around a single microphone.
Add to that Bird’s remarkably clear and matured singing, which often brought to mind Ryan Adams (especially on the new Three White Horses), and you had a performance with almost vaudeville-like variety and expression but balanced by a musical spirit both assured and restless.